Sharing in the Work to Reduce Polluted Runoff
At the risk of sounding like a geek, I was excited to see construction crews building "bio-swales" along the side of US 50 in Anne Arundel County in January. A bio-swale is a special trench filled with native grasses and materials that soak up polluted runoff.
CBF Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost. Photo by Nikki Davis.
We're seeing more and more new projects throughout Maryland to reduce polluted runoff. This is great news. We need the effort badly. After all, polluted runoff is the only major source of nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay that is increasing.
Many of these polluted runoff-reduction projects are state funded.
In his proposed budget this year, Governor O'Malley recommended $67 million for local governments, watershed groups, and farmers for on-the-ground runoff reduction projects. The governor's budget also proposes $45 million to help the Maryland Highway Administration reduce polluted runoff from state roads. This is record funding for this work.
We expect significant results. Maryland's vast road system, for instance, is a major source of polluted runoff. Cars are dirty. They leave behind exhaust particles, tiny bits of gasoline, and transmission fluid, even metal. Rain washes this grime straight into nearby creeks and rivers.
A press release about the US 50 project said the State Highway Administration (SHA) will build bio-swales along the highway from the Patuxent River at the Prince George's County line to the South River near Annapolis. The $3.6 million contract went to Concrete General of Gaithersburg.
Bio-swales also will soon be built along MD 3 (Crain Highway) and MD 4 (Southern Maryland Boulevard) in Anne Arundel County and US 301 and MD 5 (Leonardtown Road) in Charles County.
"Bio-swales installed throughout the [Chesapeake] watershed will treat or offset the impacts of more than 7,700 acres of impervious surfaces and remove over 2,600 tons of sediment, 90,000 pounds of nitrogen, and 10,000 pounds of phosphorus from entering waterways annually," the press release states.
And state roads aren't the only place we see state dollars at work reducing polluted runoff. On my way to the Annapolis State House during session I've watched a parking lot at the former Rockfish restaurant in Annapolis being torn up, and replaced with porous concrete. Along the outer edge of the new parking lot—you guessed it, bio-swales. The result will be a parking lot that no longer funnels dirty stormwater into nearby Spa Creek, but instead, slows it down, soaks it up, and filters out impurities. The state helped pay for the work through a grant applied for by Spa Creek Conservancy.
But it will take literally hundreds of such projects around the state to really make a difference. We're essentially mitigating the effects of decades of paving over the landscape and ignoring the impacts on water quality. For instance, polluted runoff is the largest source of nutrition pollution in the South River—to which much of U.S. 50 drains. That's true for most creeks and rivers in our urban and suburban areas in Maryland.
Now it's time for local governments to contribute their share of this work. Polluted runoff is essentially a problem caused locally. Locals need to be part of the solution. We appreciate the state contributing such a large amount of help, but that money can't substitute for some kind of local matching funds.
That's where stormwater fees come in—fees collected locally and dedicated only to local projects to reduce polluted runoff. Two years ago the state legislature required the state's nine most populated counties and Baltimore City to start collecting a fee of a size to be determined by the local jurisdiction. Most of those jurisdictions did a reasonably good job of setting and now collecting these fees. Using that new money, many have begun their own set of projects. The result will be cleaner streams, healthier swimming areas, and less local flooding.
But now a move is afoot in the Maryland General Assembly to repeal, delay, or otherwise weaken that 2012 law. We strongly oppose that attempt to turn back progress.
Click here to help us get the word out to your local legislators. Tell them to stay strong on stormwater fees!
Maryland Executive Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation